Trips to the red planet are not still not quite foreseeable, but they are coming closer. A contribution to this will be made by the AMADEE 18 Mars simulation of the Austrian Space Forum OeWF in partnership with the Sultanate of Oman. In February 2018, a range of selected experiments from the geosciences, engineering, planetary surface operations, life sciences, astrobiology and psychology will aid the gathering of operative experience in the Mars-like environment of the Dhofar region in Oman, with the aim of preparing for a manned mission to Mars.
The OeWF has now announced the 19 carefully chosen experiments which are going to be tested in the field. Three of them come from TU Graz, which makes it the most strongly represented institution of the simulation mission. The other experiments will be carried out by teams from Oman, North America and Europe. The Sir Karl Popper School in Vienna, HTL Eisenstadt, the University of Klagenfurt, the University of Innsbruck and the Medical University of Vienna will each contribute one experiment.
The team led by Gerald Steinbauer at the Institute of Software Technology of TU Graz will direct the Husky Autonomous Rover experiment. As the name implies, the experiment deals with testing an autonomous rover which supports astronauts in their work on the planet’s surface, maps the environment, monitors radio coverage and undertakes transport tasks.
If a crew on Mars asks a question of the crew on Earth, the answer comes back in 20 minutes at the earliest. The distance-related delay in radio communication amounts to 10 minutes in each direction. In the MIMIC experiment, Martin Hagmüller’s team from TU Graz’s Institute of Signal Processing and Language Communication, together with a team of psychologists from Hungary, examines how this delay together with the extreme, stressful environment effects the verbal and written communication of the crew. In the context of the experiment, daily team meetings and communication with the astronauts on external missions will be analysed. Can difficulties in psychological and physiological adaptation be deduced from the communication?
Replacement parts from the 3D printer
Four experiments were selected from the Junior Researchers Program: one from Oman, three from Austria. Included in this is A3DPT Mars, which Michael Müller, physics student at TU Graz, member and many-time intern of the OeWF is in charge of implementing. Müller and his team will focus on tests of the 3D printer which is currently being used on the ISS. In contrast to the ISS, the printer in Oman and eventually on Mars will be used for geological investigations. The repair needs of tools will be simulated; if necessary, the 3D printer will provide replacement parts in situ.
Mars-like deserts as testing ground
The deserts of Dhofar, the biggest government district in the Sultanate of Oman, and their conditions resemble in many respects the surface of Mars. For example, there are sedimentary structures which reach back to the Paleocene and Eocene epochs, the salt domes of the southern salt plains and dried out river beds. The test ground offers a great variety of sandy and stony surfaces and slopes. Average temperatures in the test area in February vary between 16° and 27°C with less than 10mm precipitation. An almost perfect Mars on Earth, apart from the possibility of rain and an atmosphere that supports respiration.